When Andy Lane's baseball career ended after a tryout with the Colorado Rockies went nowhere, he began on-the-job training for the major leagues.
Only he had no clue.
"It's amazing how things turn out," Lane said. "I took a job with Fischer Sports because it was a great opportunity and paid a lot more than taking another shot at an independent league.
"Now here I am in the big leagues. It's been unreal and I still can't believe it."
The Ahwatukee Foothills resident came to Chase Field on Thursday when the Chicago Cubs began a four-game series with the Diamondbacks as the Cubs bullpen catcher, a position he secured in the final days of spring training after the previous guy ran into some legal troubles.
"I've been to the ballpark a hundred times, but I have never been on that field," Lane said Tuesday. "I can't wait and I am really excited to see family and friends."
Lane, 29, has one of 30 major league bullpen jobs in America and it is about as close as one can come to being a professional athlete without actually being one.
He goes to the ballpark every day, dresses in a big league uniform (No. 95), signs the occasional autograph, gets a per diem, has catered meals throughout the day, travels around the country on charter flights and stays in hotels like the Ritz and Four Seasons.
It's been a whirlwind since getting noticed in early spring training when the Cubs needed a new bullpen coach.
Especially since Lane was never a catcher in his playing career that included stops at Desert Vista, Chandler and Grand Canyon University before being drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 27th round of the 2005 draft.
"I never caught before I got to Fischer Sports," Lane said about his time at the physical therapy and conditioning center. "I basically bartered free training as long as I helped out with bullpen sessions. I ended up catching Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and a lot of the big names in the big leagues.
"I was working toward this day and never even knew it."
It all came together when his relationship with Wood led to Lane, who played his final affiliated season with the Cubs in 2006, being called in for a three-day tryout, along with three other candidates, on March 27 at the Cubs spring training facility in Mesa.
"By noon of the first day, the general manager (Jim Hendry) asked if I wanted the job," he said. "I couldn't believe it. My only hesitation was leaving my job at Fischer, but I took it on the spot."
Brett Fischer, the man behind Fischer Sports, put that to rest.
"He always wanted to make it to the big leagues as a player or maybe as a coach and this was his shot," Fischer said. "I told him he'd have his spot during the offseason. The Cubs knew they were getting someone who could help them right away and even help out with strength and conditioning because of his time here.
"It was a perfect fit for both sides."
Lane's duties include rubbing mud on practice balls, helping out with the strength and conditioning portion of the player's warm-ups, throwing batting practice to the first group, shagging fly balls, hitting fungos, warming up that day's starting pitcher until the starting catcher is done with batting practice, catching bullpen sessions for relievers warming up and starting pitchers who need to get in a side session.
And he gets paid to do it. It's not six figures, but does come with a per diem and tips. Not to mention his office, at least half the year, is historic Wrigley Field, although it isn't always a friendly place for bullpen catchers.
"The bullpens are on the field and if a ball gets past it is going to go all the way to home plate and you hear about it," Lane said with a laugh. "I love going to the ballpark every day again so I can deal with it. I loved working at Fischer but I was getting the itch to get back to the ballpark somewhere. It's what I am meant to do."
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org